Navajo Nation Joins 10 Tribes in Suing US Over COVID-19 Funding

By Jessica Swarner

April 23, 2020

President Nez argues that Alaska Native Corporations, which generated more than $10.5 billion in revenues in 2018, can pursue other sources of funding. 

The Navajo Nation has joined 10 tribes in suing the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury for what President Jonathan Nez calls the tribe’s “fair share” of coronavirus relief funding. 

Nez said in a statement that part of the $8 billion Congress has allocated for tribes is wrongly going to for-profit Alaska Native Corporations. The aid money is supposed to help tribes stay financially afloat while businesses and tourist attractions are shut down due to the pandemic.

“Allocating funds from the Coronavirus Relief Fund to the Alaska Native Corporations will severely impact the Navajo Nation’s ability to fight COVID-19, and will impact every other tribe as well,” Nez said. “While the Secretary has not yet announced a formula to disburse the funds, including the Alaska Native Corporations in the calculation will reduce the funds available for tribal governments. The impact on the Navajo Nation will be significant because of the Nation’s size, population, and the already disparate impact of COVID-19 on the Nation.” 

RELATED: Tribes: Why Is a For-Profit Alaska Native Corporation Getting Coronavirus Relief?

Nez argued that the corporations, which generated more than $10.5 billion in revenues in 2018, can pursue other sources of funding. 

The federal government has argued the Alaska Native Corporations do fall under the definition of “Indian Tribe” and are eligible for the funding although they are not tribal governments.

As of Wednesday, there were 1,282 coronavirus cases within the Navajo Nation’s 175,000 residents and 49 deaths related to the virus. 

Vice President Myron Lizer said the tribe is in need of rapid testing, more healthcare workers, and medical supplies including protective gear and ventilators. 

RELATED: Navajo Nation Extends Community Closure Into May And Gets Big Water Donation

“Our Nation is slowly seeing the benefits of the three COVID-19 bills passed by Congress, but it is not arriving fast enough,” Lizer said in a statement. 

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now warning us of a possible second wave of COVID-19 that may hit the country in the winter season – we need funds and resources to prepare for the long-term,” he added.

The tribe is counting to combat the coronavirus spread through social distancing and other measures. This week, Nez extended the closure of the Navajo government through May 17, and lawmakers have canceled the spring legislative session. Nez has also instated nightly and weekend curfews, and last week the tribe’s health department began requiring anyone on the reservation to wear protective masks when out in public. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.



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